Who Did Cleo?

Mystery/ Art Museum / Butter Knife / 946w

The sculpture hall of the Met. A marble bust of Cleopatra sitting on a granite pedestal, circa 200 AD, artist unknown. Artist unknown has gone with a strictly Ptolemaic interpretation: loose curls, angular nose, soft Grecian chin and an absent look in the eyes. Of her Egyptian culture or fierce intellect, there’s neither hide nor hair. Detective Casaldi stands in front of her, fists on hips. The pair are eye-to-eye, encircled by yellow tape and softly mewing tourists.

Someone has taken a can of spray-paint to the bust of the bust; SN-149 drips in silver down her pale white décolletage. The curator, Ms. Emeline Poiver – a woman with impressive bosoms of her own, Casaldi has already noted ­– is beside herself. How in the world could this have happened without anyone taking notice?

Casaldi’s thinking it’s anyone’s guess. Someone lightning-quick with that can. The paint is pretty fresh, so everyone leaving the museum is being searched, but so far the most egregious contraband has been a Mets lighter.

Ramos is Casaldi’s partner. He’s brand new in every way – brand new detective badge, brand new to the 19th precinct, slacks so brand new they’ve still got the creases from the department store hanger. The man is chewing gum like it’s his job and staring off into the vaulted ceiling of the hall, instead of studying the crime-scene-in-silver.

Casaldi shakes his head. He isn’t so sure about introducing any Latin flavor to his ten years on the job, but, he figures, he’ll have to get used to it.

Anthony Ramos knows Casaldi isn’t his biggest fan. Might even think he’s a little stupid. That’s fine; he’s alright with being underestimated. Temporarily, that is. He only needs a couple more weeks to really get his footing in the Upper East Side. It sure as hell isn’t the Heights. Even the crimes are different.

Not this time, though. He chews and thinks.

“What do you think?” Casaldi asks. “Look familiar?”

Ramos shakes his head. “Some poser, I figure. Art school grad.”

“These goddamn kids,” Casaldi mutters, out of range of the whimpering Ms. Poiver. “They’re a plague.”

Right around ’69 came the first wave of taggers, OG “writers,” as they called themselves, schlepping paint and hissing their initials onto every surface of the city like they were some kinda Picassos. The subway cars looked like rolling rainbow spaghetti. Like somebody wadded up the funnies from the newspaper and pasted it on there.

“It’s an eyesore,” declared Mayor Lindsay.

It’s ’73 now, though, and the writers have mostly moved on to new styles, new techniques. Ramos knows this because up until last January he’d been 30th precinct, where a lot of the writers are from, which hadn’t worked out so well because he was a Heights kid himself. So Ramos can see clear as day that the kid who’d done Cleo did it old school.

“I’m gonna go check in with the unis,” Ramos says to Casaldi, who grunts. Cleo, besmirched, looks at Ramos disapprovingly. If she had arms, they would have been folded.

In reality, Ramos hurries past the unis checking bags at the front entrance, and books it to a payphone a block over on Madison. He spits out his gum and dials a memorized number.

A voice says, “Hello?” and before he can hang up, Ramos says, “You did the statue?”

There’s a beat of silence. “Yeah,” Sonny says. Sonny N lives on 149th, down the street from Ramos’ mom.

“Are you retarded?”

“Fuck you, Tony.”

It’s a short and sweet version of an argument they’ve been having since Ramos went out for the academy. The time before this, there’d been alcohol involved, and he was made to understand that he was a complete sellout, a traitorous SOB, and his ass better not show up north of Manhattanville anymore.

“You used your own tag. The one you been putting up and down the west side for five years. What, that wasn’t enough free advertising? You think they won’t be able to track you down?”

“Oh so it’s ‘they’ now?”

Ramos squeezes the greasy phone handle hard. A couple walking by rake their eyes over him and his out-of-placeness. It’s so sharp he can practically feel it. When will he adjust to that?

Sonny snorts at his silence. “Besides. How are they gonna make the connection, huh?” His tone is bladed, accusatory.

He doesn’t have to ask. Ramos is never going to say anything. He’s not going to call up the chief and point out the SN-149s on every seventh car in the City College layup, or the one in the empty lot next to Big N’ Save, or the small one, silver, on the foot of the behemoth George Washington bridge. He’s feeling too good about this one, Cleo’s. Sonny knows the Met’s in his precinct. It means he wants his attention.

But before he can get those words out, Sonny hangs up.

Where the hell did Ramos get to? Casaldi is wondering. He looks like an idiot, standing there with his thumb up his ass and no leads to speak of. There’s a crowd of high-schoolers in Hayville Hornets sweatshirts and purple lanyards gawping at him. Somebody is giggling. Cleopatra and her offended breasts are looking more disdainful by the minute.

Ramos appears, out of breath. He’s jogged back. “Sorry,” he says. “Unis thought they had a guy. But it was just this in his pocket.” He holds up a plastic butter knife from the café.

Casaldi sighs. “Let’s pack it up. We need to get in a report by end of day.”

Ramos has turned to comfort Ms. Poiver. “We’ll find him,” he’s saying.


Writer’s Note

I didn’t want to stop posting here completely! So here’s a classic genre switcheroo, not much of a mystery for anyone except Casaldi, because suddenly I really wanted to write about “writing.” It’s something I’ve done some research into because of some classes I’ve taught on its history. There’s definitely still a tagging subculture here in NYC, but not like in the 70s and 80s. Google that. It’s really crazy and fascinating. Some of the biggest artists, like Lady Pink and COCO-144, are still doing their style of art today.

The ending was so hard. It still feels kind of unfinished. Tony obviously isn’t ever going to snitch, but I want to dwell a little more on his conflict. The loss of his neighborhood and perhaps his eventual reentry to its community. Yeah, I’ll probably come back to this one.

Feedback welcome.

Photo by Meriç Dağlı on Unsplash

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